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NEXT JACK AND DUSTY rub elbows with D.C.’s glitterati in an attempt to unravel the evil intentions of The Committee. Right off, they’re out of their depth and vulnerable. And Alex Romanesque — right in the middle of everything — is cooking up a big surprise that’s certain to spoil the party for everyone.
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Musical Inspiration: Tom Jones and Nina Persson – Burning Down the House
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“MOY’S GONE . . . over the hill for a measly six-mill. That I don’t understand at all.”
“We could get her back.”
“Yes. Let her keep the six, offer her another six as a bonus, and she’ll be back in a flash. Only I don’t trust her, Senator.”
“Yes. You’re right. You’ve always had a good read when it comes to this kind of thing.”
“Have I ever been wrong?” I mean wrong wrong?”
“Never, my dear. That’s why I always check in with you first.”
“Well, not always always, Senator.”
“Point taken, my dear. Lesson learned. I know you never liked Chief, but that problem’s been resolved.”
“Yes, my dear. Please don’t rub salt in a raw wound.”
“Just so you know.”
“You’re killing me with this, Aster. You know that?”
“Yes I do, dear.”
“So I take it you like the new girl okay? What’s her name? Dusty? Huh?”
“Yes. She’s another hard-luck hardcase. Least that’s my read. But we’ll check her out. Leave no stone unturned.”
“That’s for the best, my dear. Now that the clock’s ticking, Red Pearl is finally in motion. This is gonna be the big show.”
“Finally, Senator. I can hardly wait.”
IT’S THE KIND of old car that doesn’t really require a key to fire it up. But for its supercharged engine and brand new suspension, it would have been the feature in some demolition derby down in Texas. However, now that it’s newly reconstituted and still looking grunge, it’s a perfect getaway vehicle. Ugly and intimidating, a patchwork of bare sanded metal, primer and Bondo. Obviously, somebody’s pride and joy at one time.
No doubt the previous owners were a bunch of rough and tough hardcases. The perfect complement for a war-wagon like this.
Now Jack hopes he doesn’t get pulled over for a loud muffler or for simply for being ugly.
He’s waited until it’s nearly dark in an effort to be as inconspicuous as possible. Thing is, he’s already getting hard looks from everybody on the street. He’s certainly out of place riding around Georgetown and central D.C. in a junker like this. Guys in suits turn away. Secretaries, all dressed up, check him out for a couple of seconds, before turning away.
Seems they’re just dying to take that ride on the wild side. Only most get cold feet at the last minute. A likely fear that once they go there, they’ll never be able to go home again.
Passing through the hood is something else altogether. First of all, he’s a white dude in a car like this, which in and of itself doesn’t play well. Jack feels like he should put his cap on backward and scrunch down in the seat, so he looks like a midget or small child out for a spin. The hard looks he’s getting make him wonder when he might cruise past the actual owners of the car or one of their gangsta buddies. “Yo! There go ya ride, Homes.” He can hear it now.
His plan is to stash the car behind the Heartbreak Hotel. Nasty as that vehicle looks, nobody would dare fuck with it. Then he’ll check the dingy basement beneath the hotel — the most likely place for contraband to be stashed. Upon first moving into the Heartbreak, he’d given the basement a quick once-over, but that was it. This — meaning high explosives — is something else again. The space under there has the ambiance of those old crypts beneath Rome, or Dawn of the Dead.
Not being the sort who’s easily creeped out, Jack is surprised to find something vaguely reminiscent of fear crawling up his spine. Instinctively, his hand moves to the butt of a nine-inch KABAR tucked behind his back.
“Hold on there, pardnah,” a calm voice mutters from the shadows. “There’s no sense turning into some kinda wild man . . . least not yet.”
It’s Alec, of course. He’s been sitting there in the dark, all alone and waiting. Knowing Jack would show up eventually. The tone of Alec’s voice was supposed to sound familiar and reassuring, but it has the opposite affect on Jack. Only a fool would turn their back on a guy like Alec. And they’d only do it once. And most are easily fooled, too, taken in by Alec’s easy smile and casual, relaxed manner. All this makes Jack think about what might have happened to Mike back in that hotel room.
Alec would be grinning. Some small thing might catch Mike’s attention a split second before Alec zips him wide open with a stealthy blade.
In spite of all their history together, Jack knows Alec will be coming after him today, tomorrow, or the next day. The tell will be one of Alec’s little slight-of-hand moves. Alec is all tells, quirks, jiggy annoyances — a storm-tossed sea of misdirection.
“So you knew I’d show up. Jesus, Alec, how long you been down here in the dark with all the bugs and shit, anyway?”
“It’s not so bad, Jackie boy. You get used to it . . . the waiting. As for the bugs . . . yunno . . . just snacks is all. Anyway, there’s nothin’ down here for you. Everything’s gone. Moved it all far away. So not to worry. Huh? So, how ‘bout going across the street. I’m hungry and I understand their burgers are good. Maybe even better than their breakfasts. C’mon. Whaddaya say, old son? My treat.”
Jack is hungry and if the two of them are in a public place, the chance of being blindsided by a quick stick in the ribs will be lessened, though not excluded.
Over cheeseburgers they talk about Aster and Sunny, Frank, Dusty and The Committee. In the end, they agree that Jack needs to put on his Rashid al Bokura persona for real this time and take it inside. Alec will watch and wait, play the fly on the wall. Maybe backup, if necessary. They’ve been looking for a thread to pull on, hoping it might lead to a crack in the wall. They hope they’ve found it in Sunny.
“YOU’RE DOIN’ WHAT?” she says. “Are you completely outta your fuckin’ mind?” Dusty is a hard sell, but in the end she has no choice. It’s what Jack’s determined to do, and that’s that. “Well, I think it’s crazy, Jack. Frank will recognize you right off and he’ll blow your cover. He thinks you’re dirty, ya know.”
“No. No. Frank won’t know. Listen, I’m good at this. By the time I’m finished, you won’t even recognize me.”
“Really? Well, that’s a bet then . . . and I hope it’s one I lose.”
Jack smiles. Knows she’s right. Just hopes he can keep it together long enough to learn something useful . . . and get out alive.
JACK’S PLAN IS simple enough. He’ll concoct some ruse to get next to Sunny, something involving diamonds or guns. Or fuck it, how ‘bout diamonds and guns? Everyone’s favorites, they’re in high demand. Easy to move. A girl’s best friend. It’ll be Jack’s entrée to Aster and then, The Committee. If he works it right, he won’t have to produce a single firearm. The diamonds will be a different story. Given Aster’s family background in the diamond trade, he’ll need to come up with a whopper —something that can be traded through legitimate channels without getting beaten down too bad. And his promise to procure more — buckets of ‘em — should entice The Committee. After they sell ‘em off, the proceeds will be clean as a whistle for them to use as they see fit.
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